Sunday, December 22, 2019

Secret Santicorn 2019: Psychonauts- Courageous Healers or Conniving Thieves?

This year for the Secret Santicorn I received a request from Nick Roman that goes something like this.

A dungeon/adventuring location set in a dreaming mind. Are you rescuing them from a curse? Stealing a memory in an Inception-style heist? Trying to undo their amnesia and find their hidden true self? You decide!"

So, here's the thing about dream trying to create fiction that evokes dreams, if hard because the waking mind does not think in dream logic. Lucky I think the texts produced by GPT-2 have the dreamlike quality of almost but not quite making sense, so I've come up with rules that use Talk to Transformer as a secondary GM in charge of dream sequences. I don't know how good of an idea this is but it could work. Now, what I have is less of an adventure, and more rules for creating adventures, as a large part of the content is generated by a computer. Also someone please stop me before I end up writing a whole setting.



The Lore:
In recent years a strange kind of artifact has been discovered in the ancient ruins under our fair city. Gates have been dug up that allow you to enter the dreams of others. Each Gate is this ring about two horses in diameter and as thick as mast tree. From the touch it's smooth and almost warm like horn, and each Gate is unique in color and the pattern of it's ridges. Which is good because each one has a corresponding Crown that looks like the Gate in miniature. By themselves the Gates and Crowns are just feel in explicable alive, but when a Crown is put upon a sleeping person's head, than something magical happens.

The space within the Gate unfolds, and you can step into the dream of the sleeper. The dream is not like the waking world, it does not follow rules, at least not ones that make sense to us. However the world of dreams is also the world of thought, so the presence of a waking mind disrupts the flow of the dream, causing the "lucidity" of the dream (which is separate from the lucidity of the dreamer) to ripple out and swing like a pendulum. The common parlance among Psychonauts has come to refer to the periods of greater dream logic as "High Tide" and periods of higher lucidity as "Low Tide". But who can make out what the Psychonauts babble, it would be easy to pass them off as lunatics, stringing together patterns from nonsense and spewing philosophic drivel if the things they brought from the dreams were not so real.

At the time of writing, less than thirty compete sets have been discovered, and despite there not being any real understanding of where they came from and why, the public has really gotten excited by these circles. Dream exploration has become a cottage industry, and one that aims to help with so many psychic ills. Feeling depressed? Do not worry, it can be taken out by our best men. Have your been dreaming of writing your own perfect play, or marrying the perfect wife or having the perfect suit? Well, if you can dream it, we can fish it right out of your skull. Wish you could learn the classics but don't have time or energy? Well, we can  just take the classics, and shove them directly into your subconscious, no problem. Trust in us and our expertly trained Psychonauts!

There have been rumors that there is a dark side to the dream exploration business. That, the Psychonauts might rearrange a personality for their own ends, that sometimes they go in so deep that they can no longer get out, that sometimes nightmares escape instead. All baseless rumors, I assure you.

The Procedure:
Tools: A computer of some sort with access to this site. Fore the sake of convenience I'm going to refer to it as Transformer.
Setup: The GM sets up the computer with the site and writes "Dream Gravity" somewhere visible.
  1. For the Gate to open, a Crown must be on a sleeping person's head.
  2. The party enters the Gate and must weather the High Tide.
    1. The players comes up with a paragraph of description, that the GM inputs it into Transformer.
    2. The GM reads out what the computer spits out, that's what happens. During High Tide, the players just watch the dream unfold.
  3. After it passes, in the Low Tide of the dream, the party can act upon the dreamscape.
    1. This segment is like normal play, but common sense takes a second seat to the sort of tone established by Transformer.
  4. As the Tide begins to pick up again, after an encounter's worth of play, (however you define what an encounter is, say 10 minutes of play if want a ballpark) the party has to choose between PUSHING FURTHER or PULLING OUT.
    1. PUSH FURTHER: If the party pushes further, than 1d4 is added to the Dream Gravity total, and repeats the process from step 2, except this time the prompt is based on the last thing that happened in the dream.
    2. PULLING OUT: If the party decides to exit the dream they can just do so, but they have to roll above the Dream Gravity score for each dream thing they want to take with them, otherwise the thing stays in the dream.
      1. A "dream thing" is any noun you could take with you. Objects, creatures can be taken but not locations.
      2. If Dream Gravity is higher than 10, than each player counts as a dream thing as well.
  5. When the party gets out of the dream, the sleeper usually jolts away. And now it's time to determine how they have been effected and how any dream things interact with the waking world.
    1. Each dream thing represents some part of the sleeper's soul/personality/memory, the GM decides how this effects their character, and it can have some weird magical properties based on how it worked in the dream.
      1. The dream thing can also be used as a one time teleport back into the sleeper's consciousness without the use of a Gate or Crown.
      2. In the astral plane there is a clearly visible thread from the dream thing to the sleeper.
    2. Each thing that was left inside the dream, gains some metaphorical significance and changes the personality of the sleeper in some way.
    3. Every person left inside the dream, sticks around as a new voice in the sleeper's head, and can hijack control of the body if they beat the sleeper in a will contest. Treat this as possession. They can be encountered in the sleeper's head if the party goes in later, but their shape might be different, and they will might remember themselves only sometimes during Low Tide.
The Notes:
The way I have this system setup is to enmesh the Talk to Transformer website with a live human GM, I know AI dungeons exists but I haven't been able to figure it out so I wrote rules around the tool I understand. The concept of High and Low Tide is introduced so that there is a diegetic explanation for the changing between paragraphs of almost coherent computer narration, and normal OSR play. If there's a tangible in-world difference between the two states, than rather than being a weird game abstraction, it's a way to support the fiction of exploring a surreal dreamscape.

I made the main consequence of dream exploration a push-your-luck mechanic because the normal consequences of death and bodily harm don't seem quite relevant in this context. I like being stuck in the dream as a consequence, it tickles the part of my brain that likes tropes like "don't eat the food in fairy land" and "spend to much time transformed into a bird and you might forget you were every human". I don't quite have the words to explain why this feels right, and that's no accident because this subsystem is all about the relation between the conscious and the subconscious.

Dream things are meant to be the treasure that draws players to engage with this subsystem. The fact that each dream things a part of someone's soul serves the purpose of preventing the Gates from being free magic item machines and creates meaningful impact for the game's characters and world. The teleport-into-sleeper's brain that dream things have is a fail-forward mechanic. In that it provides an escape route for when your in a tight spot, but one that generates it's problems. Like how do you get out of the brain once your in there, and how is the npc going to feel once you teleport into him and so forth.

The sleeper wakes up when the party pulls out to prevent players from just quickly going in and out of the dream to reset Dream Gravity. Meaning that players generally only have expedition per person per night, which has the additional benefit that players get to see how they are changing a character's personality over time. Players can use drugs and sleep spells and other methods to get their target back to sleep, but that's ok because there is some opportunity cost of money, spell slots and side effects in some way. 

The Hooks:
While most of the adventure is generated in the computer, there is room to come up with why the players are going into someone's dream.
  • The Court Magician is sure that the King's recent slump is caused by demons he's being possessed by. Get in there and kick those suckers out!
    • The truth is that much to the annoyance of the King's advisers he's being suing for peace with a nearby kingdom, and as they need another war around now it would be nice for a policy change.
  • A painter who has lost the steadiness of his hands to age dreams of the same masterpiece night after night. He wants it retrieved so that others can marvel at it.
  • A man recognizes that he has anger issues, but doesn't believe he's able to change maybe you could help him.
    • There is also the question of what to do with that anger once it's outside the man.
  • A wizard has a business proposition, what if we traumatize some orphans, than extract their nightmares and train the resulting monsters to be guard dogs.
    • I mean, if we take the trauma out of the kids, than the kids don't have trauma anymore which makes this whole operation ethical.
  • A cult believes that if they move their entire collective into their high priest's head, than they will ascend into a higher being.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Session Report: Sibub and the River Creature

I have continued last week's adventure with my little brother's knight Sibub today. I too lazy to do a proper introduction for what happened previously so here is a link to that post.

The Session:
  • Sibub hid behind a bush and waited for the creature to emerge from the waters.
    • At this point me and my brother sketched out a layout of the river, house and smithy on the wipe board we have.
  • The creature emerged, wet and slimy and went towards the back of the the house. Sibub circled around it it and observed the creature from around the corner.
    • My brother asked about where the bushes were, and said his intent to hide around them. I explained that this isn't like a video game where bushes are designated hiding points and you just have to keep line of sight off you.
  • The creature paws at the window sill of Breyan's room and moans about how it wants to be with her and to be a human.
    • The name changed from the confusing Brery to the actually pronounceable Breyan.
    • The creature refers to Breyan's grandmother who it loves as "my beloved".
    • I did a silly and mumbly voice for the creature. At first it was barely intelligible but over time I spoke it more clearly.
      • My brother asked for a translation and I explained that naw you you gotta deal with it.
  • Realizing that the creature didn't have malicious intent Sibub walked up to it and started talking to it, at this distance noticing that it has one human eye.
  • I don't quite remember all the details, but the creature explained it's love and it's longing to be a human and asked if Sibub would be willing to trade body parts.
    • I realize now, that I forgot to offer anything in return for the parts.
  • Sibub declines but offers to find willing donors during the day. The creature thinks this is a promise but Sibub clarifies that he will try rather than guarantee.
  • The creature fails to understand the meaning of the word "try" and Sibub only kinda explains it.
    • My brother wanted to go and google the word try to fix the issue but I disallowed it because his character as a blacksmith and knight didn't have the background to explain the meaning of trying in the moment.
  • With that, Sibub retired for the night and went to speak with the witch the next morning and explained what happened last night.
    • I laid out all the npcs for my brother to choose to talk to and reminded him how they relate to each other first.
    • The actual conversation was a bit more all over the place than how I'm presenting it now.
  • He asks the witch what the creature is, and she says that it's a thing of the deep sea, dark caves and places between realms.
  • He asked her what she means by "between realms" and she explains that their is a visible world and an invisible world and that she won't release trade secrets by going more into detail.
    •  My brother asked this question out of character but I chose to answer if from the witch's perspective.
  • He tells the witch about the human eye the creature has which gives her pause.
    • Thought in the end this didn't turn out to be a relavant detail.
  • He asked if maybe the creature took it's eye from it's Beloved's corpse, but the witch explained that body part trading magic only worked on the living.
    • Around this time it occurs to me that the witch can call ghosts and could potentially talk to Breyan's grandmother but I couldn't think of a natural way to sneak those details in so I didn't mention it.
    • My brother also theorized that maybe Breyan gave her eye due to how I ended up drawing it.
      • I cut out the illustrations I made for each npc and made stands for them from binder clips.
    • I didn't point out that her father Harric has an eyepatch as that would be a bit of a too obvious hint.
  • Sibub asks the witch what he should do, and she stated her opinion that humans and creatures such as this one should stay separate. She suggests convincing it that being a human is horrible or getting it to fall in love with some traveler, she doesn't care as long as it's away from her town.
  • Sibub ponders if he should or shouldn't kill the creature and after much deliberation settles for trying to talk with it for two nights and if that doesn't work than he'll kill it on the third.
  • That night he meets the creature, and they spend an hour sorting out the meaning of the word "try" and why Sibub hasn't come with a willing donor. The creature is still frustrated by the end of this hour.
    • This is where I first introduced PW's resolution model in the game.
      • The threat was that the creature would misunderstand and attack.
      • The compromise was that the creature would be confused and frustrated but mostly accept the definition of "try".
      • The outcomes of he roll would be "creature gets it" and "creature misunderstands and attacks".
  • Sibub takes some time explaining what family, genetics and the similarity/difference between family members.
    • In which my brother literally explains these concepts and I act out the creature's responses.
    • Sometime in this conversation with the creature it occurs to me that his Beloved's ghost might still reside in the house and the creature might actually be onto something. There wasn't a natural way to introduce this so I kept it unsaid.
  • The creature asks if the human mind/soul resides within the family or the individual and Sibub explains how different they are.
  • Sibub explains that humans are mortal and all humans die eventually.
  • The creature looks Sibub in the eyes and Sibub can see that it recognises that what he says is true but doesn't want it doesn't want to believe. In frustration it swips at him and...
    • Second time the resolution mechanic is invoked. The threat is that Sibub gets thrown into the air and snaps his neck on landing.
      • I put a dice on one hand and a pencil in the other when I asked if my brother would like to compromise or roll. I wish there was some better object to represent the compromise option. Some scales maybe or some sort of tokens?
      • I don't think we solidly defined what the compromise would be, my brother was eager to toll some dice.
      • He had two dice from his Knight Training and an additional one from his Swift Quirk. My brother didn't want to use any of his motifs because this action didn't fit under either the heroic or grim conditions within the fiction as it was presented and my brother didn't want to mark any stress.
        • As I'm writing this I think I may have interpreted heroic/grim a bit too stringently.
  • Sibub sails in an arc and lands on his head dead as a doorknob. The creature slivers into the river and begins processing the first stage of grief in the depths.
    • My brother with a laugh said that he just knew that he was going to fail that roll.
    • He asked to rewind to before the choice and I disallowed it because that would invalidate the dice roll.
      • It now occurs to me that I should have said that it invalidated the choice, which is what actually matters here.
      • Throughout these two sessions I've allowed rewinds and redos, mostly in situations where there's a miscommunication of some sort.
      • At this point I pointed out to my brother that if he used a motif, than even thought he'd have to mark stress for it, he would have had more dice to work with.
    • Instead of rewinding I offered that Sibub can rise up as a ghost to complete any unfinished business he had. My brother said naw and instead showed interest in being the Narrator next time.
      • He picked Narrator as a name for the GM/DM/referee role himself. It fits so I'm just going with it.
      • As unfinished business for Sibub to come back from death for, he considered killing the creature.
After Thoughts:
What went well:
Everything mostly. The world has solidified become more real in this game which is my personal holy grail of rpg experiences. Things flowed seamlessly and I didn't get bogged down and swamped in details like I often do when playing rpgs. It felt less like I was making choices to hold up an illusion and more like I was presenting the logical conclusions of what was being presented. Another interesting thing that happened is that rather than the traditional sedentary way of playing an rpg where the Narrator sits behind their screen and looks upon the players, there was an amount of dynamic movement. I would convey the creature thought body language as much as voice, my brother would pet the cat, we stepped over to the wipe board to sketch out spacial relations and so forth. It helps that I didn't have anything that needed that much hiding behind my GM screen.

Some may think that introducing complicated moral quandaries to a 10-year old and having them explain the meaning of family, identity and mortality is bit harsh but I think that part of the purpose of games and stories is to introduce these topics in safe and controlled dosages. RPGs are especially good for play with moral issues because of tactical infinity, ruling and fictional positioning can capture the nuance that strict rules often can not.
I recognize that this sounds rather pretentious and conceited to use elfgames in this way. I will attempt to justify my thought process by saying that I don't believe that art for entertainment and serious art are separate. I consider Discworld and Homestuck to be as worthy of the title of literature as anything by Shakespeare. This topic also goes on my list of things that deserve their own post. 

What didn't go well:
I don't think I explained compromises most gracefully, and I ended up offering compromises to the threats I presented instead of my brother. I think this will resolve itself as we play more, where I will get better at explaining and my brother will get better at making stuff up. I also failed to include a good amount of the senario's details in a way that was natural. Maybe I should have spent more time on the recap. It's not the end of the world that not all the available threads got screentime so to speak though.

One downside of throwing moral quandaries at my brother is that at some point when the creature almost became violent, my brother's voice had a tinge of "I might cry" in it. While that shows that he got invested into the game is still a situation where I almost induced tears in a fellow human being.

Questions for next time:
What would be a good object to represent the idea of compromising? It's not necessary but dice have a tactile "mythology" the surrounds them that's older than RPGs. Dice are a physical representation of chance and luck, their fun and evocative while compromise doesn't have that. My current thoughts is to have a tiny scale, when you present a threat you put a weight on one side and when players come up with a compromise they place their own weight on the other. If you don't want to carry weights just weight it down with your finger. I should go see if I can get something like that 3D printed.

As I wrote this report it occurred to me that one of Sibub's motifs was a Protective Helm, which could logically protect him from a snapped neck death. I should discuss this with my brother.

What readings and explanations should I give my brother before next Sunday so that he can narrate well? The rules for Pyrrhic Weasel would be one, a little theory about how rpgs are a conversation would be another, but maybe just having him figure it out as he goes along would be a good approach. I should ask him how much secrets of Game Mastery does he want revealed to him and how much does he want to figure out on his own.

How do I balance positive and negative emotions in my games and writing? Is there some specific actions I could do to balance it or is this a matter of practice?

I feel I should make check if everything's ok with my brother,  how do I word that good?


Update:
I brought up how the Protective Helm would have prevented the neck snapping, and offered that Sibub survived but in a crippled state. My brother wanted to add the motif in that case, so he rolled an additional two dice and won't you know it one of them was a six. Sibub survived perfectly fine and only needs a few nights to sleep off his brief flight. Next week my brother is still going to be the Narrator, I'm curious how that's going to turn out.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Session Report: The Adventures of Sibub and some rule tinkering.

So I ran a session of Pyrrhic Weasel with my littler brother. Pyrrhic Weasel is a game system made by Jones Smith/Screwhead Mcduff on his blog and can be read about here, here and here. However I made some modifications. Instead of 2d6 the dice mechanic I used was rolling a pool of d6s and if one of them comes up with a 6 than you succeed. To reflect this change I decreased the ranks of starting Motifs by one so that you wouldn't be rolling 5 dice at the beginning. I kinda goofed with how Training was converted which I'll explain after I show the character that was generated. I choose not to touch Paths because I'm still getting a handle on Motifs.

The Character Sheet:
Name: Sibub
Traits:

  • Profile: Delicate face with a delicate scar.
  • Form: Slender and wiry.
  • Virtue: Confident and forgiving.
  • Vice: Cowardly and greedy.
  • Quirks: Slow(when calm), Swift(when panicking), Delicate Stomach.
Motifs:
  • Knight's Sword
    • Rank *
    • Theme: Grim
    • Ceremonial Fencing Sword gotten from a great task preformed for Gnome King Bob. Signifies Sibub's knighthood in the Order of the Worm.
  • Practical Helm
    • Rank **
    • Theme: Heroic
    • Your best friend made you this very good full helm the summer that they died.
  • Sun Hammer
    • Rank *
    • Theme: Heroic
    • Your fest friend made you this hammer inscribed with the rune suno. It is worn from use but magnificent.
Training:
  • Knight **
  • Blacksmith *

Other things that aren't written down but are part of the fiction: Sibub is a human who was raised in the gnome kingdom (gnomes and dwarves are equivalent) and his best friend was a gnome.


Character generation was fun but ended up taking somewhere around an hour of rolling and discussing to iron out the details. The motifs are very good for ironing out a character and their story. An issue that came up was that I ended up with coming up with more interpretations that my brother and ended up having a lot of say in how Sibub turned out.

Now with the Training thing, I only realized when we got to it that I misunderstood that you get one Training, as I was planning to use it as the main source of dice pools and assumed there would be three. Since me and my brother couldn't come up with a third thing for Sibub we went with the two that made sense and I ruled that they would be at one and two ranks.

The rune suno relates to the magic system I made months ago and will write a blog post about once I've gotten at least one session where it's playtested.

The Session:
  • I explain that the Gnome King has sent Sibub on a mission to find out what things are happening in Endon. Sibub is chosen for this mission becouse he's loyal, a human and knows enough about smithing to understand the magic goings on in the city.
    • As I have recently gotten MIR and am excited to run it.
    • My brother asks if he would have gone to Endon if his character turned out differently and I explained that I would have found another reason to send him there.
    • I like blacksmiths being magic so that's why that makes sense.
  • On the way there Sibub stopped at a village on the river Sword to swap his mountain goat mount for a horse and rest.
    • I picked it because I'm most familiar and interesting in running it. I also have illustrations for all the characters there.
    • Here I explained that I'm not currently ready to run Endon, today's adventure will be in this town.
  • Sibub had the choice between going to the tavern or the chruch for a night's rest, he chose the tavern.
  • He met Brery the tavernkeeper and she was suspsious of him but let Sibub stay.
    • Brery turns out to be a bad name to pronounce and she ended up being refereed to as the tavernkeeper or barkeeper most of the time.
  • She cheerfully offers Sibub a big pint of cider and says it's a tradition for travelers to chug it. All eyes in the bar are on the knight.
  • He decides to chug it and immediately regrets it as his delicate stomach can't handle it and he vomits. Everyone in the tavern laughs at what happned.
  • Sibub places a hand on his sword and briefly considers murder.
  • That night he sleeps very unsoundly with his aching stomach.
  • In the morning Brery tells him where the local witch lives and the knight finds his way there.
  • The witch is introduced as Rewitte and is promptly only every refereed to as the witch from this point forward. As she brews Sibub a tea for his stomach she notices his sword and asks what the Gnome King's business is.
    • My brother asks if she recognizes that it's Grim and I explain that I meant she recognizes that Sibub belongs to the Order of the Worm.
    • I also explain that Grim and Heroic are things that people in the world understand in their bones, but not the mechanical specifics of how motifs work.
  • Sibub explains that he's just passing thought.
  • The Witch asks if Sibub would do a her a favor while he's here and slay the Wild Thing that lives in the river.
    • I would have liked Brery to introduce this quest, but Sibub murder glare didn't engender trust in the barkeep.
  • Sibub accepts and even says he would do it without payment. Which surprises Rewitte as he's a knight of the Order of the Worm.
    • My brother was trying to formulate how to defeat the Wild Thing with the Sun Hammer.
  • Than she explains how that Brery is Harric the blacksmith's daughter and that at night the Wild Thing approaches their house.
    • At this point I'm shifting around the order of events to fit what happened in the fiction rather than at the table.
  • Sibub goes to Brery and she explains that she's been haunted by the Thing since childhood and it keeps calling her by her grandmother's name. She also explains that she doesn't want to marry until she's sure she's safe from the Thing.
  • Sibub decides he needs to forge a magical weapon(which he can do with the Sun Hammer) and goes to the Harric the Blacksmith to ask for him to borrow his forge.
  • Harric loudly refuses, and Sibub leaves.
    • Harric refuses both because he hates sharing his things and because he doesn't want the Thing killed.
  • Sibub hides behind a bush at night and waits for many hours. Some time at midnight as shadowy and slithering form emerges from the waters and...
  • to be continued!
    • Session ended becouse we had other things to do.
After Thoughts:
What went well:
Character creation was interesting. I was able to improvise things alright. I don't feel like it was my A game, but these things come with practice and this is my first game in many months. This session didn't end up having any dice rolls or compromises, which I think is alright. Next session should have a big fight.

What didn't go well:
Me and my brother weren't always on the same page of what the other was saying. This is also a thing that improves with time. I don't like how motifs work at the moment, specifically how non-diegetic themes are. I have a tweak for this that I will mention lower down.

Questions for next time:
How powerful is the Thing?
Does it fear the sun?
What is the sinister side of Gnome King Bob?
What do I need to do to have Endon ready for next time?

Pyrrhic Weasel rule variant: Monikers
While Motifs are cool little bits of story my issue with them is that items that are all important to someone don't fit in my personal appendix N (which I could probably dedicate a post to describing) and doing good for the sake of fueling your sword seems weird to me if that sword is not literally Excalibur and explicitly powered by hopes and dreams. I've already written something similar in this post, where I made levels diegetic by tying them with names and applying the trope of names having power.

In this variant Motifs are replaced with Monikers which are almost mechanically identical except for the fact that they are names instead of items, and instead of a Theme, each Moniker has it's own Purpose, which is a bit closer to a Goal. Or maybe keep the Themes I'm not sure yet.

Monikers are also explicitly diegetic, in that it's known to everyone that names have power. Stress represents a name that's overused loses it's meaning, in the same way that repeating a word to many times makes it devolve into a collection of sounds. Actions that fit a Moniker's Purpose/Theme instead reinforce the meaning and make the name more true. Another note is that because rolling only happens when your at the edge of your ability, it's not your skill that matters, it's the strength of identity that decides your fate.

To get back to my original complaint "I do a good/bad thing because my identity as a Hero/Villain demands it" seems more natural and something that can be applied more broadly.

Training no longer exists in this variant. Instead, there's a new category of traits called Background which covers upbringing, education, culture and all that jazz.
I might just be allergic to assigning numbers to skills in general. 

The only issue is that Monikers would need an equally fun set of tables to define them like Motifs have, which would require some tinkering to come up with something that works. Also maybe you start with only one Moniker and have to gather more as you go along? I don't know.





Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cultures of the Soupborn.



Famed-in-small-circles idea haver, David J Proskopetz had an idea about what if fantasy races had unique reproductive cycles. Most of that post isn't relevant to what I'm about to write, so I'll quote the part that really grabbed my attention.

"Goblins were created by alchemy as servants for an evil wizard, but immediately stole their own formula and rebelled. New goblins are brewed in big brass cauldrons full of exotic reagents; each village keeps a single cauldron in a central location, and emerging goblings are raised by the whole community, with no concept of parentage or lineage. Sometimes they like to add stuff to the goblin soup just to see what happens – there are a lot of weird goblins."

Now here's the thing that I love about this, is that there are a whole lot of ways you can take this. Goblins can have cultural distinctions based on how they treat the stews they are born from. They can have differing rules or lack of rules for what is allowed into the stew. Different names for their cauldrons, whether they have cauldrons or just pits in the ground, the possibilities are endless! I'm going to restrict myself to four cultures in this post thought.

But first some additions to the general idea.
First is the backstory, and how it's utterly inconsistent. While some claim a wizard made the goblins, others say that they rose from the blood of a god or that all life came from soup and everyone has strayed from the natural order of things.

Second is that one trait that goblins usually have is that they can smell and taste if there's something wrong with their stew. A bit like how how some people can smell if there's a cold on you.

Third, is that goblins are for the most part asexual, aromatic and genderless. That's not to say they lack love, they are social animals just like humans, but without as much focus on specific individuals. Where humans art and poetry is obsessed with the idea of the soul mate, goblins believe that finding the right squad will bring them everlasting happiness. This is a very general trend, but individual goblins are as varied as humans.

Lastly, is that the size of a soupborn is based on how long they have floated in the pot. At first a tiny little goblet is formed, than an additional layer coating after coating of goblin gets added. Most goblins are the size of short human because that's big enought to move not get crushed by absolutely everything but small enought so they don't have to eat that much. If you cut open a goblin, their flesh is ringed like a tree, this becomes more obvious the larger a goblin gets, which is why it's well known that ogres have layers.


Brewer Tribes
Hobs and gobs, sniggs and snogs, ogre, wogre, troll. They usually leave everyone alone in their swamps and caves, but sometimes the buggers will steal livestock or attempt to sell either infernal contraptions or get-rich-quick schemes. The one thing that they respect is booze. If you bring them a bottle they will treat you as a friend, if you can brew than they will treat you with reverence.

From the outsider's perspective a goblin village is a complete mess, while that is true there is system to it. The center of a village is the pit or if they are well off, the cauldron that acts as a central hearth and heart of the village. They are born from the cauldron and in death they are thrown back to the cauldron to reincarnate once more. Around the the cauldron is a ramshackle structure where goblins, congregate, eat and sleep. The air is moist and warm, the smell is potent and sticks to your skin, home sweet home. Around the main hut at variable distances are workshops,  tool sheds and storehouses for all the things that disturb the soup or would be disturbed by the soup, most importantly the breweries.

Witches hold a special position in this culture, as wise persons and keepers of power. Witches are defined as anyone who can brew booze, and their power and wisdom is ranked by the quality of their spirits. You can split mountains and make dragons bow with your magic, but if you can't make a good ale than your kind of a phoney in the eyes of a goblin. A number of tribes have been converted to not-christianity by monks who know how to make beer. Closest thing to a king or chief in a goblin tribe is a Spoon Master, who has a few important duties, first to stir the soup for optimal thickness without killing any developing goblets, second to fish out the goblets once thier ready and finally to veto bad additions to the stew, traditionally with a smack of the spoon. Another important tradition is that Witches get more sway in the bickering over the soup.

GLOG Racial Features:
Perk:
Mutation: Roll for a mutation on a nicer mutation table.
Drawback:
Mutation: Roll for a mutation on a meaner mutation table.

Or roll on the Scrambled Race Table.


Armies of Darkness
The troops of the dark lord. Orcs and ogres, gretchlings and hobgoblins. Wretched things with clawed hands that pillage and plunder. They break and crunch all things beautiful and spit out mush. They only live by pain and hate. Their unfortunately easy to produce as well once you secure a cauldron. Many a petty warlord and maniacal wizard use them as canon fodder in their armies. It's growing increasingly common that wars aren't fought by noble knights but goblins pitted against each other in terrible brawls.

A goblin born in a war cauldron is a pitiful thing indeed. They don't have any access to it for one thing. human or other monster keeps a tight control over it, which leaves the goblin alienated and effectively orphaned. This also makes a goblin born ill for cruel lords don't fuss about a brew as a goblin can and will. Cruel lords demand obedience from goblins and punishes the slightest error. Thus a goblin learns deceit and duplicity. Cruel lords tell goblins that they are made for a purpose and must serve it, and the poor goblin tries. Needless to say, goblins make for horrible soldiers and while armies of darkness always cause a lot of history to happen they really bring victory.

It's frightfully easy to get an army of darkness to turn against it's master. A single spark of hope or a little bit of truth is enought. There are several tricky bits thought, they generally react poorly to overt good and nice things, if it looks to good to be true they will suspect a trap. There's also the issue what do they do once their free.


GLOG Racial Features:
Perk:
Grunt: You can effortlessly feign loyalty, appear to be busy and lie with a straight face. Most people will underestimate your intelligence by default.
Drawback:
Mutation: Gain a random mutation, from a mutation table that has a fair few nasty results.

Or roll on the Scrambled Race Table until you get something kinda pitiful.


Wild Things of the Arboreal Forest
Orc, woodwose, beastman, trolls. These fanged and shaggy creatures carve eyes on their spears to always strike true and teeth on their shields to break the opponent's blade. They pay homage to the master of the Boar's Wood, an old and brooding god. They are renowned for always seeking out the biggest toughest thing to fight. An average one can wrestle a bear into submission and their champions are rumored to have suplexed giants. They are often found in mercenary companys but always side against the strongest side and don't accept coin for their service. They only throw great beasts and mighty heroes into their pots, to ensure that the next generation grows up stronger, smarter and deadlier. Orcs are known to even raise powerful monsters for the purposes of the pot.

While the culture of the beastmen is focused on the idea of glory in combat and always taking on the baddest guy in the room, they still have a sense of self-preservation and personal interest. If an orc band hears about the death of a dragon they are just as likely to challenge it's slayer as it is to murder them in the dead of night and taking credit for the feat. While they do have a reputation for not taking pay, they work under the assumption that they will be given gifts generally of live-stock and weapons. Most will decline any gifts given to them but will become upset if you don't insist on giving them what they want. The greatest honor a woodwose could receive is to be thrown into the pot, supposedly for deadliness in battle but it often ends up that the most popular and well liked wose get in there. For many wose this actually a relief because one has to be thrown in during the prime of their life. Outsiders are offered this honor more often than beastmen actually. In some cities, the idea of a "wild son" is recognized for when a beastman displays traits of a hero given to the pot. The recognition ranges anywhere from being equivalent to normal offspring to being bastards to being the originating family's property. The city of Vrast has gone as far as to make beastmen to be it's warrior caste.

GLOG Racial Features:
Perk:
Beast's Mutation: Roll three times on a mutation table, pick the one best suited for hunting and/or fighting.
Drawback:
Appetite: Need to eat twice as many rations.

Or roll on the Scrambled Race Table, until you get something sufficiently beastly.


The Folk under the Mountain
Dwarf, dvarger, gnome. If you ask a dwarf how it was born, they will scoff and say that they are forged from living metal. Like goblins that don't have parents in the human sense. There are the Deep Smiths that made them, but they don't raise gnomes. They stand distant and revered, working in their secret foundrys attended by masked spirits who barely speak in whispers. A dwarf is raised by their mentors who teaches them both the culture and craft of their people, just as their mentor did for them. Lineage is tracked through the bones, which are made of durable metal, rather than the perishable living metal. The souls of ancestors past are always with a dwarf, and are said to aid them in their time of need.

You may ask as to why Dwarves are mentioned along side others born of the soup if they are forged? Well, it is a half-truth that dwarves are made of metal. Their skeletons are honestly forged, but "living metal" is not different from normal goblin flesh, it just grows around a titanium skeleton. The sacred smithies of the Deep Smiths look more like alchemical labs, where they spend day and night making sure that the soup has the right heat, the right amount of salt and the correct viscosity to produce ideal dwarves. The ones who turn out wrong either get killed or raised to be masked spirits that bare the gnomish secrets. In some holds they act as servants to the Deep Smiths, in others the Deep Smiths are more like go-betweens between the masked ones and the rest of dwarven society.

Such a secret would be to large to keep, deep down most dwarves are vaguely aware that something doesn't quite line up. They however ignore and rationalize away the inconsistencies just like humans do about their deeper secrets. Don't compare a dwarf to a goblin unless you want an ax to the face.

GLOG Racial Features:
Perk:
Fixate Bones: Your joints can be locked in place. You stand still for hours or hold a a hand position for hours without any movement or muscle cramps. Does take a moment to lock and unlock thought.
Drawback:
Heavy: You cannot swim, you sink like a stone.

If you want to play a Masked Spirit, you get the normal dwarven features, a mutation and a mask riveted to your face.

Post Script:
Does this count as part of the dwarf challenge? I do describe dwarves here, and I have participated in recent dwarf discourse, but this post is mostly about goblins.

Monday, August 19, 2019

GLOGular Settlement Challenge: A village on the river Sword.

Continuing my habit of posting my Glogular challenges I present to you the River Sword.


Some legends say that the river Sword was the weapon the gods used to slay a great demon, others claim that it's the Ocean's attempt to murder the Bearclaw mountains in the convoluted politics of elementals. Regardless of the reason, unlike other rivers, the Sword flows from the ocean. Unfortunately for would be entrepreneurs, the rocky foothills it snakes thought usually leave splinters instead of boats on the way up. When the river finally levels out, it results in a most unique salt water ecosystem that nobody cares about because biology hasn't been invented yet.

People have settled into a town on the Sword, far from the bustling cities. The towns folk quietly work during the day, and keep inside by night, far from the concerns of lords and wizards.  Like many settlements that hug a river, it's called Sword as well. The most traffic it receives is from those making one last stop before heading up the Bearclaw or to be ferried across. Other than that, it has a modest population of around a hundred, and everyone knows everyone else. City slickers are treated fairly coldly by most of the populous. Here are the 6 people adventurers from out of town are most likely to interact with.


Brery the Barkeeper:
Is known in town for uppercutting a bear that one time. She has scar on her face and a no nonsense attitude. Her main concerns are running her establishment and how she's going to start a family in this economy. By default she's not going to trust outsiders farther than she can throw them, but will allow them to stay in the barn. She will try to pressure travelers to drink a pint of the town's special cider, which is incredibly strong. Roll a poison save vs passing out if you drink it normally, your fine if you sip it thought. Wither or not she likes you depends on how much of a good sport you are about the cider. Knows a lot of people out there.

  • Fears the Wild Thing as it's been stalking her from childhood. Her wedding is delayed until she's sure that she's safe from the wrath of some fucking cryptid.
  • Her fiance is Lyan. She's hiding why she's delaying the wedding from him because she doesn't want him to try be a hero and get murdered by some fucking cryptid.


Lyan the Fisherman:
A hunk, the town's most eligible bachelor. Considered the most manly man in the town but secretly maintains a beautiful flower garden that he pretends his aging mother is taking care of. Everyone likes him and he can easily get the town's population of young men to do some task together. He's a bit too trusting and if you you can convince him of something, you can leverage his social circle. When not shepherding or gardening is found at the bar with his bros.

  • Brery is the only one who knows about his gardening secret.
  • Often goes to the Witch for relationship advice.


Harric the Blacksmith:
One eyed, shriveled like a prune and grouchy. Doesn't like other people and only deals with them when he has to. He's a master at his craft and knows the secret of making immovable rods. Give him a month and he can make a cat size metal object that has the properties of an immovable rod. He keeps this a secret, but a number of the newer houses in the town hang on immovable nails with his trademark. Even if you do figure this out, getting him to sell something would require even more convincing. He wants to A) not have to talk to people B) smith things C) his daughter to be happy.

  • He trusts Brery, who's his daughter and Kerick who's he's priest. If one of them vouches for you, he's a lot more willing to work with you to buy his product at good rates or take commissions.
  • He sacrificed his eye to the Wild Thing for the secret of the immovable rod.


Rewitte the Witch:
Is an old woman with cat ears, and a mangy familiar that has human ears. His name is Moris. She is the local midwife, medium, apothecary and general purpose wise women. Everyone in the community respects her but also keeps their distance. Her primarily concern is keeping the town safe, and for that she wants information on what is going on afoot. She will provide medical care and her necromantic powers for knowledge about incoming threats and favors that help the town. She also completely a gossip and will love to spill tea while with oat cookies and pinecone jam.

  • Had a thing with Kerick once, has moved on since then.
  • Does not want the Wild Thing to join the community. Her training has always preferred humans and the fey stay separate.


Kerick the Priest:
Likes to eat cherries, there's an embarrassing amount of cherry pits in nooks and crannies of the church. Despite this being his home town, and all the time he's led the congregation here, he feels like an outsider, due to the time he's spent in the city. His flock however accepts him perfectly well and have forgotten he's ever left. While he was in the city he tried to balance being faithful with politics, that led him to being shuffled back to his backwater hometown. He's abandoned the struggle for temporal power to serve the spiritual needs of his community. He still knows people back in the city and can give the players a letter of invitation if he believes their cause is righteous. He offers hospitality and place to stay for weary travelers of his faith and heathens who are willing to convert.

  • Had a thing with the Rewitte once, is not over it.
  • Having converted the Wild Thing to not-christanity, and believes that it can grow to become a human.



Wild Thing:
It's not a demon, and it's not an angel, it's a human but not a beast, only thing for sure is that it lives in the river. Most of it's kind don't care for mortals and ignore them, but this one has watched them for millennia and desires to be one. It thinks it understands humans a lot more than it does. It thinks human life is all fun and games, and a lot of the nuances of human interaction are lost on it. It has zero facial recognition for human faces, instead relying on hair color, clothes and houses to identify people apart, but it can easily identify metal tools from the eye the Blacksmith gave it. It will trade pieces your humanity for weird magic things and haphazardly say occult secrets that are just common knowledge among it's kind. But it won't coerce or kill to gain humanity because killing is bad.

  • Wants to marry Brery once they are human, except they fell in love with her grandmother and hasn't yet realized that they are different people.
  • Thinks Harric is the Brery's brother and husband. As it does not understand how birth works, much less incest or it's taboos.

Other Entries:
Ortish Colony by Words for Yellow
Nahemot and Ezra, the city of noise by Alone in the Labyrinth
January by the Benign Brown Beast
A living, moving city by Parasites and Paradoxes
Stones, a refuge in Hell by Two Goblins in a Trenchcoat.
The Grain District by Of Slugs and Silver

Thursday, August 8, 2019

GLOGular Curse Class Challenge: Fading Curse


I have been very bad at posting for this blog despite having a whole free summer to do so. The reason is because rather than throw scrappy ideas out into the world I want to have them playtested a bit first which results in nothing happening because I have a problem with organizing games into existence. Which kind of defeats the point of blogs, at least for me, as my goal with blogs is to write things consistently. So, I'll post another magic system post soonish. Also a questian to my meager readership, should I expand this blog to cover topics outside of rpgs or should I make another blog for random musings? Anyway to the content of the post.

In the OSR discord's GLOG pit there has been a challenge recently to make make Curse classes. They act like classes, but with a few major differences. First is that rather than something the player choices, it's something that's inflicted on them, werewolf bites, pissing off the wrong gods, falling into a horrible pit and so forth. The second things is that they override normal class templates. If you already have 4 templates, than your last one get's replaced. If you have 3, than you can't choose your last until you break free of the curse and so forth. Other people have already discussed why this is a neat mechanic already, the only thing I have to add is that by taking up the same limited slots that classes occupy, it neatly prevents concept bloat. If becoming more of a werewolf makes you lose your wizard powers, than that keeps a character more coherent than if they are 30 different things at the same time. My entry is deliberately meant to play off how the curses make you lose things, in fact I made a curse all about losing things.


While it may seem that the world is made of physical things, the truth is that it's made of concepts. Concepts like things, are vulnerable to entropy, but usually at a slower rate than we can perceive. Sometimes however the rate can be rapidly accelerated, and sometimes the concept being forgotten is a person.

Ways of gaining the Fading Curse:

  • Challenging the Reaper to a game for your life, but instead of playing flipping the table and running away.
  • Magic experiments to warp space time.
  • This very simple charm for avoiding taxes. Oddly enought despite it's simplicity, nobody's known to use it.


The Fading Curse:
For each template of this curse, gain 2 Stealth.

Template A: Stranger, Ignore Me, Fade, Existence Dice 3
Template B: Stranger 2, Identity Theft, 2 Existence Dice
Template C: Stranger 3, Specter, 1 Existence Dice
Template D: Nobody, 0 Existence Dice

Stranger: All your casual acquaintances forget you and your name is erased from mortal governmental documents. When you meet a new person they will forget about you as soon as you leave their presence, unless you really give them something to remember.

Ignore Me: You can cause a specific person or group to forget you forever by exacerbating the curse. Each time you do so, roll for Fading as described in the ability below.

Fade: Your grip on existence is thin and unstable. You have 3 d6s that are called Existence Dice to represent how close you are to the abyss. You have to roll your Existance Dice once every month. If you roll doubles when rolling your Existence Dice you don't gain another Fading Curse Template, if you roll triples than you lose one template, otherwise you gain the next Template.

You can temporarily increase the amount of Existence Dice you have with the following methods.

  • Sacrificing a Magic Die or doing something the grants MD (wizard drugs, lightning strikes, consumption of divine corpses, etc.)
  • Spending 100 gold on bards to spread your good name.
  • Erasing or crossing out some part of your character sheet. Work with your GM to determine what this means.
Stranger 2: Your allies and enemies forget you, and you disappear from written recorded that people actually care about like newspapers, novels and diaries. Hirelings will forget about being hired. Strangers will always forget you after they stop looking at you and will usually ignore you away if you do nothing weird.

Identity Theft: You can take other people's reality for your own. If you successfully impersonate someone you can get a temporary Existence Die, and the person impersonated will gain Template A of the Fading Curse.

Stranger 3: The people who care most about you, your loved ones and nemesis forget about you, also your name vanishes from divine records, meaning you don't have an afterlife to speak of. Other player characters also forget you at this point, they can still rely on you out of character, but in character they must rationalize your existence away.

Specter: Your physical form becomes more of a suggestion than a reality. You no longer look a fuzzy vaguely humanoid mass. You can fit thought any crack and fudge the specifics of what you physical body is at any given moment.

Nobody: You have forgotten yourself. You can't be targeted, or understood. If you are called by a name, that name will become your new Identity and you lose Template D. Few are able to recognize what you are so it's a bit tricky. Children, madmen and the psychically gifted might feel your presence. If you Fade again, than you cease to have ever existed.


Other Entries:Words for Yellow: Vampires, Wendigos and more!
Archon's Court: Nanoweapon Poisoning
Walfalcon: the Skablin (?)
A Blasted, Cratered Land: Hero (aka Destiny)
Anxious Mimic: The Oath
The Benign Brown Beast :the Restless Dreamer
Princesses and Pioneers: Mirror-Struck
Parasites and Paradoxes: The Doppelgänger
Bubgear Slug: The Abattoir God
Nuclear Haruspex: The Undying (and the originator of the idea)
Meandering Banter: Wizzard Bidness
Of Slugs and Silver the Ogre

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Gloggular OSRic Parasite Challenge: Umbrant

Last minutes submission into the Parasite challenge. I would come up with a nice lore introduction, but I don't know where they come from, just what they are.

Umbrant

A: Shade, Puppet, Lend Power
B: Curse Eater
C: Unintrusive, Call the Shadow
D: Embrace Night

For each Umbrant template you get +1 Stealth.

Note: You eat rations at the same rate as anyone else, but instead of physical food you need to use your various abilities.

Shade: You don’t have a physical existence in the traditional sense, but neither do you act as a normal shadow. Your form doesn’t stretch or warp based on lighting conditions, and the depth of your form is relative to your Constitution and Charisma, while the area you occupy is relative to your current HP. You can’t interact with physical objects, but you can interact with their shadows as if they were and this will affect the object that’s being interacted with. For example, if you punch the someone’s shadow, they will feel being punched.

Physically attacking you does nothing unless it’s magical or able to harm ghosts. Sudden bright lights that disturb your silhouette deal damage to you as an explosion of that size and shadows of objects affect you physically. So the shadow of sword is a danger to your well being. In complete darkness you cannot move but can’t be effected or seen by nearly anything.

Puppet: You can burrow into a target’s shadow. If the target isn’t willing than you need to successfully grapple it into submission first, if they still resist than the struggle will deal 1d6 damage as you enter. Their your Host now. Their shadow will deepen and widen to accommodate your mass, but will react to light as a normal shadow. You can hear their surface thoughts, project your own surface thoughts into them, and eat one of their Charisma to have lunch. You can puppet them and they can puppet you, disagreements are resolved with opposed Strength checks.

Lend Power: If you allow it, your Host can use your Attributes instead of theirs own or none-Umbrant Abilities.

Curse Eater: If a curse or dark influence hangs over your Host, you can sense it. If you can call it by it’s name than you can force it to manifest as a second shadow which you can now interact with as with any other shadow. If you manage to kill it, you can eat it to sate you for d6 per HD/level or what have you days.

Unintrusive: You can burrow into shadows without the target noticing, as long as they are not paying attention to their shadow.

Call the Shadow: If your Host allows it, and only if your Host allows it, you can call their Id to manifest as a second shadow. The Id will merge back into the Host after a couple hours, but before than all three are able to communicate directly. If you eat your Host’s Id they loss 1d6 in all three mental attributes and something truly irreplaceable. They will live, but as a husk. The Attributes they lost will go sustain like Charisma gotten from Puppet.

Embrace Night: Darkness no longer prevents you from moving. You are free as freely as a fish swims through water and can choose to interact with shadows as either solid or medium.

Design Notes:
Something I've noticed about many of the other parasite classes is that a lot of them are closer to symbiot in function. Which makes sense because a truly parasitic class would either have to consist of unfun PvP or game of "how do we get away with hireling exploitation?" So what I decided to do is to allow this class both help and harm people and the choice between being a parasite or being symbiot is one you make in game on a case by case basis. Of course Umbrants aren't going to harm players bu the same code of conduct that players don't stab each other, but with NPCs you could have interesting interactions. Umbrants can be seen as monsters or healers and both views are perfectly valid. There is space for interesting ethical conundrums, which is one of the things that interest me in rpgs.